Fancy kicking off 2021 with a fitness challenge? Learn to run a 5K in just four weeks with this realistic training plan – even if you’re new to running.
Not only is it the start of a new year, but we’re weeks-deep into another lockdown too – not an ideal situation for hitting our 2021 goals. Despite the options for keeping ourselves active being limited by coronavirus restrictions, it feels as though this could be the perfect time to throw ourselves into a new fitness challenge.
Setting yourself a goal could help keep your exercise motivation up throughout this gloomy month of January and beyond – plus, give your physical and mental health a much-needed boost. Running is an ideal choice, being a form of outdoor exercise that is both high-intensity and accessible.
“More than anything, getting out in the fresh air is important for your peace of mind and switching off,” says Tashi Skervin-Clarke, runner and personal trainer. “Have no expectations. Just plug into a podcast, a good playlist or an audiobook and run. It’s a nice escape from the day-to-day.”
While there are popular apps like Couch to 5K that can coax you through the training plan, they’re not for everyone. So whether you want to give running a go but don’t know where to start, get back on the running bandwagon you joined in March but forgot about in July, or just want to improve your already-steady 5K pace, Tashi’s here to help.
5K running plan for beginners
If you’ve never run before, a 5K is a daunting distance. But don’t worry, you won’t need to thrash yourself during the month of lockdown in order to nail your target. “Four weeks is a good amount of time to get someone to their first 5K, even if they have to have a few walking breaks during the run,” says Tashi.
She recommends three runs a week for beginners to find their running legs, but spacing out the runs as much as possible for optimum recovery. That means don’t run Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then forget about it for the rest of the week. Instead, try to leave at least a day between sessions.
While more experienced racers might try to mix up their runs with different distances and speeds to work on all disciplines of running, beginners can make every run of the week pretty similar, then “increase the work to rest ratio” to build up stamina. For example:
- Week one: one minute running, one minute walking, for 20 minutes total
- Week two: one minute running, 30 seconds walking, for 20 minutes total
From there, it gets less prescriptive. You might want to try a five-10 minute run with one minute walks a few times over. Or you might feel confident enough to attempt a slow-paced 20 minute run without stopping.
“For someone who has been running consistently for a few weeks, you can start to think about running for half an hour or so. That should get you to around the 5K mark – and it doesn’t matter if you walk during that,” Tashi says.
Between these runs, it’s so important to recover properly. “Stretching and foam rolling the calves, hamstrings and quads will be really key. And try to add some yoga to your routine, particularly hip opening postures,” she adds. “In an ideal world you should stretch after every run, but it’s important to listen to your body and work out where your niggles are and where you need to pay close attention to.”
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Intermediate 5K running plan
If lockdown 1 was your time to nail the 5K, you can still continue training to get faster or more confident during these four weeks.
Sticking with three sessions a week, you might want to mix up your training with different lengths and speeds, such as:
- One steady 5K run
- One slightly longer run, maybe starting at 5.5 or 6K
- One speed session. This could be done in intervals again, so 60 seconds of intense, fast running, followed by a 60 seconds recovery walk or jog, seven-10 times
The same recovery rules come into play here, so make sure you make time in your plan for stretching and foam rolling, as well as taking time to de-stress and eat good food.
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